Fiber can help regulate blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, and may even help prevent cancer. Here are 4 ways to sneak more of it into your diet.

  • Fiber is an essential nutrient, but only 7% of Americans eat the recommended amount.

  • Small changes, like swapping in whole grains, can make a big difference.

  • If you still aren't getting enough fiber, try taking a supplement, a dietician told Insider.

Fiber is a gut health superstar. The benefits of fiber include regulating blood sugar, reducing the risk of colon cancer, reducing cholesterol, and helping to prevent stroke, heart disease and hypertension. Not to mention, eating enough fiber can make going to the bathroom an easier experience.

Despite these benefits, the American Society for Nutrition estimates that only 7% of Americans meet their daily fiber needs: About 25 grams a day for women, and 38 grams a day for men.

Insider talked to Dr. Joanne Slavin, a professor and registered dietician in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, about easy ways to sneak more fiber into your diet to hit those goals.

Opt for whole grains

Eating whole grains is a great way to get more fiber in your diet, said Slavin. "We get most of our fiber from grains," Slavin said. "Whole grains have more than refined grains."

Whole grains, like barely, oats, rice, wheat and corn, include all parts of the grain seed. Making small swaps, like using whole-wheat bread instead of white bread for a sandwich during lunch, can boost fiber intake by 2-3 grams.

In fact, fiber from whole grains — specifically dark bread, bran and high-fiber cereal like oatmeal — may be even better than fiber from fruits and vegetables at reducing inflammation and risk of heart disease, Insider reported previously.

Make soups, stews or a stir fry

While eating veggies is a great way to get more fiber, cooking them down in a soup, stew or stir-fry can make for an even more efficient source.

"When you're cooking vegetables or even cooking fruit, you're driving out water and increasing fiber," Slavin said.

Soups, stews and stir fry can also be great options for meal-prepping: Make a large batch at the beginning of the week and you can store it in the refrigerator or freezer for an easy home-made meal later.

Eat fiber throughout the day

Some people, Slavin notes, try to knock out their fiber intake for the day at breakfast, using a supplement like psyllium husk (also known by the brand Metamucil). But she instead advises people try to eat fiber at every meal if they can.

If you want to reach 28 grams per day of fiber, you should aim for 10 grams of fiber per meal, Slavin said. "That's two to three servings of fruits, vegetables or whole grains."

Making small changes, like adding more vegetables, nuts, seeds or legumes, or keeping on vegetable skins, could help you hit your fiber at each meal. Slavin recommends using seasonal fruits and vegetables for the best taste.

The biggest thing, Slavin said, is that "every time you have a choice, if you can make a choice that includes more fiber, that's going to be a better choice."

Grab a supplement — and start slowly

While Slavin thinks getting fiber through foods is the best option, she says it is OK to use a supplement if you're having trouble hitting your daily fiber intake goals.

"I believe fiber is that important, so if you can't do it with your food, you might want to think of a way that's a good supplement," Slavin said.

Metamucil is one option, she said.

People who aren't used to having fiber in their diet might experience gastrointestinal distress when they start adding in more fiber, Slavin said. But don't let that discourage you.

"If somebody says I tried this product, it really bothers me, well try something else," Slavin said. You can also slowly add more fiber over time, she said, to help your body adjust.

Ultimately, any addition of fiber is a good thing. "People that eat more plant foods, which is where fiber comes from, have better health outcomes," Slavin said.

Read the original article on Insider